At some point in the life of a dynasty team there may arise the need to “blow it all up” and start over fresh. The strategy many employ is trading established players for multiple draft picks, an effort to stock up on lots of young talent. In a situation such as these, an owner wants to get their team back to respectable and at least competitive as soon as possible. Every moment that goes by without their team being competitive is costing that dynasty owner money.
How then can a team increase its chances for a quick turn-around?
For those teams determined to start over, there are a lot of question marks, namely who should you target with your high end picks? Often the answer isn’t clear cut – there are lot of talented players that all match up well against each other. Inevitably, every position has its standouts as well. With agents revving the hype machine behind every first round pick, it’s enough to make a dynasty owner’s head spin. You’ve got to get these picks right, they’re going to be the faces and cornerstones of your franchise for the foreseeable future. These players are either going to win you money or they are going to cost you money, the motivation to use your newly received rookie draft picks smartly is clear.
While there is certainly more of an impetus for those owners blowing their teams up to get their rookie picks right, no team goes into a draft looking to make bad decisions for the future of their franchise. We all want to get our rookie players into our lineups as soon as they are viable fantasy options. Certainly player-by-player evaluation is everything, but sometimes there isn’t a clear translation between the skills of two players.
For instance, take this hypothetical situation. Who do you choose if you had a clone of AJ Green and a clone of Andrew Luck that were somehow in the same rookie draft? How do you compare these two hypothetical players in terms of skills and long term dynasty value? It’s nearly impossible due to the fact there is no real overlap between the two positions in terms of comparability.
Often what occurs is owners draft a player that fits into their pre-conceived notions of value or they draft a player who fits a position of need on their team. While not always advisable, there are worse things than drafting solely on need. The best rookie drafting strategy is generally accepted to be drafting on value.
Value is certainly an interesting concept in fantasy football, what is valuable for me might mean next to nothing for another owner. However, a top ten player at any position tends to hold more value to more people. As such, it would seem to make sense that positions that produce top ten players the quickest might make for more interesting draft choices, or at the very least might make for players that could be flipped easier for more dynasty pieces.
So, say two or three years from now you have just suffered a horrible year in one of your dynasty leagues, you take a deep breath and decide it’s time to blow it all up. The actual NFL draft is a few weeks away and there are four players at the top of every board – they just happen to be a quarterback, a running back, a wide receiver and a tight end. Well, that’s pretty convenient isn’t it? Kiper, McShay and Mayock are all split on the best prospect, the internet draft and fantasy football experts are all split evenly. It looks like you’ll just have to make the best educated guess you can.
Here’s where I’m going to step in with some nuggets of information to help you make the best choice for the situation you find yourself in and for the strategy you wish to employ going forward.
As I stated above, a good barometer of how successful a fantasy rookie first round draft pick becomes is how quickly a player breaks into the top ten of their position. In order to get this information, what we have to do is determine how many years it took each player that appeared in the top ten of their position between 2002 and 2011, to make their first appearance in the top ten. We will then average all of those numbers together to get an overview of which position tends to “pop” first. A quick look at that data begins to reveal a couple of very interesting things. See for yourself:
First, despite the current trend of tossing first round quarterbacks right into the fire their first year, few seem all that well prepared to handle it, despite constant claims to the contrary. One average, it take quarterbacks who appear in the top ten about four years to make their first appearance, one of the longest waits of all the positions. Additionally, very few quarterbacks even appear in the top ten their rookie year – the two exceptions are Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. While Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III might be the first and second overall picks in the NFL draft, dynasty fantasy owners might do well to temper their immediate expectations of these two players based upon the performance of the quarterbacks who have come before them.
Second, wide receivers nearly mirror quarterbacks in the amount of time it takes for your average top ten wide receiver to make their first appearance in the top ten at just a hair less than four years. Furthermore, wide receivers, too, only have had two players appear in the top ten in their first year. Immediate guesses would obviously be Calvin Johnson, AJ Green or even Larry Fitzgerald. Those guesses would all be incorrect – Calvin Johnson took two years to break into the top ten, AJ Green missed the top ten in his rookie, and only, year, and Larry Fitzgerald also had to wait until his second year to break into the top ten.
The two wide receivers who managed the feat of breaking into the top ten in their rookie year were none other than Anquan Boldin and Randy Moss. While Boldin is likely a surprise to many based on his fall from the elite as of late, Moss becomes obvious in hindsight. My theory on this close correlation between the numbers posted by wide receivers and quarterbacks is that rebuilding NFL teams often will draft a young passing and receiving duo with high draft picks in the same year or in back-to-back years as cornerstones of their team. As such, these players feed off of one another and grow together.
The first big surprise of this information is just how fast tight ends begin to produce on a high level. Tight ends rank second both in terms of the time it takes for the average high end performer to reach the top ten and in how many tight ends break into the top tentheir first year in the NFL. Tight ends on average break into the top ten roughly three quarters of a year earlier than their quarterback and wide receiver counterparts and have double the amount of first year appearing players at four. While it’s highly doubtful that anyone would spend the first overall pick in the draft on a tight end, in a league that values tight end production at a premium, some consideration might be given to drafting a stud rookie tight end in the first round as many did this year in their rookie drafts by drafting Coby Fleener at the tail end of the first round.
The true surprise of all the positions is clearly the running back position. While many would lean towards running backs being the earliest producers, the scope of their domination is staggering. Running backs tend to appear in the top ten roughly a full year earlier than quarterbacks and wide receivers and the number of first year running backs to appear in the top ten completely dwarfs all other competition – so much so that even if you added all of the first year appearances by all the other positions (8) it still wouldn’t come close to the number of running backs to appear in the top ten in their first year (11).
There could be two extremely different reasons for this.
The first reason could be that the running back position is viewed by teams as a position that is highly plug and play, as such there is little time needed for a player to get fully up to speed. Teams might view the infusion of a new running back as a quick jolt to the offense and could lean on these young players to carry a heavy load early in their NFL careers. What appears to support this theory is the fact that Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte all appeared in the top ten in their first year in the NFL. The second reason could be that running backs burn out much quicker than any other position as we saw in my previous article, “Maximizing Your Top Draft Picks by Minimizing Churn,” hence necessitating the need for teams to churn through this position at a quicker pace. This theory is also borne out in the fact that several teams are represented on this list multiple times by different players, with some teams appearing up to three times by different players.
So, is there a way to figure out which players will move into the top ten of their position fastest? Can we wait to draft a decent player at a certain position as opposed to other positions and get equal value? One of the best ways to determine this would be to determine the average round a player who appears in the top ten is drafted in by the NFL as well as how many first round NFL draft picks appear in the top ten. Performing that research yields the data below:
The NFL seems to be locked into the theory that you draft high end running backs early in the draft, throw them to the wolves for a few years and repeat the process again once that player breaks down. Combining the data from the two graphs yields the following conclusions:
- First, the running backs that appear in the top ten are drafted roughly in the second round and take about three years to break into the top ten.
- Second, wide receivers also are drafted roughly in the second round, but take about a year longer to mature than the average running back drafted in the same round of the same year.
- Top ten tight ends tend to be drafted a round later than both running backs and wide receivers, but grasp the professional game nearly as quickly as running backs.
- Finally, quarterbacks on average are drafted in the third round, around the same time as tight ends, and tend to develop the slowest of any of the positions at roughly four years.
What does this mean for the hypothetical “blown up” dynasty fantasy football team we talked about earlier in this article? Like most things, it all depends. If the team in question is looking to be competitive immediately, the smart money would point to the fact that the first rookie pick would likely need to be a running back. Running backs are drafted higher, meaning they will likely come off the fantasy football draft board higher as well, and tend to produce the fastest out of any position.
Next, as odd as it sounds, the data seems to suggest that selecting a tight end pays off quicker than any other position. Furthermore, since the number of first round tight ends is the lowest of any position a team needs to grab a first round tight end as quickly as possible if they are looking to fully benefit from this research.
After drafting a tight end the next logical target would have to be a wide receiver. While wide receivers take much longer to develop they are clearly valued highly by NFL teams and, by default, fantasy football teams as well.
While we have seen quarterbacks taken with the number one draft pick eight of the ten years in question (and nine of eleven if we count this year), only four of those players have made it into the top ten thus far. This tidbit, along with the data discussed thus far, seems to suggest that the value in the quarterback position can be found later than most positions. This seems to fly contrary to what we have seen as of late in the NFL, but it seems as if quarterbacks who are drafted later and get to learn behind a starting quarterback for a few years are able to set in and produce at high levels. One needs to look no further than Tom Brady who was drafted in the sixth round and didn’t player during his first year but now appears on the top ten quarterbacks every year or Tony Romo who went undrafted but has appeared in the top ten a couple times.
If, however, your team is in it all for the long haul and hasn’t been blown up the best strategy might be the exact reverse of the “blown up” team. Why? It’s simple – if you’re currently competitive, there isn’t the rush to get up to speed with the rest of the league. You have the luxury of taking a longer view than your “blown up” league mate. You can afford to wait for high end quarterbacks develop and draft stud rookie running backs down the road. If your timing is right, your team could potentially ride a crescendo of young talent, all maturing at roughly the same time, into several years of playoff appearances, and of course, hopefully championships.
If there is one thing we’ve learned from the data we’ve examined in this article, it’s that not all rookie picks and player positions are created equal. Some positions require striking quickly with high end picks and demanding immediate returns; other positions can be put off until later in the draft and allowed to develop. It all depends on your personal strategy and patience level.